In less than fourteen days, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) shall begin a series of crucial elections and all eyes both local and in the international scene shall be on the organization and its chairman, Prof Mahmood Yakubu. Despite the avalanche of criticisms, one thing is in favour of the body. I am talking about the disqualification of the governing party, the APC from presenting candidates in the national assembly and governorship polls in Zamfara and Rivers States. By this singular act of independence, INEC has proved the doubting Thomases wrong about its scout readiness to conduct free, fair and credible elections.
Those of the PDP who harbour the notion that INEC may do the bidding of the governing APC must do a lot of soul searching and convert people to their thought process. If the affected party were the PDP, the party could have cried blue murder. Today the independence of INEC is being displayed before every Nigerian and the international community. The Zamfara and Rivers States disqualification of the APC is the clearest affirmation yet that INEC under the captainship of Mahmood Yakubu would not tolerate any act of impunity or lawlessness. INEC guidelines are meant for all the parties and politicians and those who run afoul of the laws shall face the relevant sanctions. This is how democracy that is governed by rules and regulations operates.
Those that lambast the organ cannot even conduct local council elections in their domains. All the parties and states government are guilty of this. It is either the ruling party wins all the councillorship and chairmanship elections or the governor acting like an emperor runs the councils with appointed party members. Thus those calling that INEC should take over the conduct of council polls have a point and the next national assembly should examine the issue critically. Since all states government have failed in the conduct of councils polls, if you stretch your imagination further, should there be state police, the governors would change it to be their personal guards. The ill conduct of council polls by the state government is the greatest argument yet against state police. These are the more reasons INEC shall continue to attract commendations despite some lapses.
That is why Prof Mahmood Yakubu should tread carefully as regards the appointment of returning officers and collation officers at levels. The news gaining currency is that the appointment of such ad hoc staff shall be centralized and the State Resident Electoral Commissioners are not finding it funny, describing the development as akin to usurping their functions. The question one may ask. Is it possible for returning officers and collation officers appointed in Abuja to be thorough in their duties at the ward, local government and state levels? If the answer is in the affirmative, then INEC should go ahead. But there is another strand of the argument that since the State Resident Electoral Commissioners are closer to the people in the state, there is nothing wrong should they be given the opportunity to choose the collation officers and returning officers at the ward and local government levels. INEC headquarters can conveniently take over the appointment of collation officers and returning officers at the state level. At this point in time, no room should be left for suspicion.
What majority of Nigerians want is that every vote should count and that nobody should remove the power of electoral sovereignty from the people. Politicians who are preparing to subvert the will of the people either through vote buying or ballot snatching should be faced with the harshest of sanctions. INEC must work with the security organs to give the nation free and fair elections within the province of human weakness. We continue to supplicate that the best candidates and popular choice should prevail. In that way, our democracy is further entrenched and the dividends of democracy freely dispensed by those with the electoral mandate. This is the task before INEC officials at all levels. They cannot afford to fail the nation
Julius Oweh, a journalist, writes from Asaba, Delta State. 08037768392